Hearing Words vs. Hearing Context: A Lesson in Listening

Listening is one skill that’s invaluable in the business realm. But hearing the words people say and hearing the context in which they say them is the difference between looking attentive and being mentally invested.

In the following post, Arden’s coaches looked at what it means to hear words in comparison to what it means to pick up on the emotional framework that supports them, or the context. Tune in to what they had to say below!

1D vs. 3D Level of Understanding

In comparing words vs. context, words are what’s actually being said (no surprise there). Context, though, is a sort of underlying filter through which that person interacts with the world.

The way you can get to the context is again by listening to someone’s words, but beyond that also listening through the words to pick up on that core context.

If hearing words gives you a one-dimensional understanding of what the person is trying to say, hearing context provides a three-dimensional view—a more vivid, accurate, and rich depiction of what the speaker has on their mind. (Note: When you get this 3D view, you’re flexing your emotional intelligence muscles.)

Words vs. Context: An Example

We’ve all likely been on both sides of this conversation: You come home from work and ask your spouse how they’re doing and they say fine. Fine is the word they say, and the one-dimensional understanding of this response is that nothing’s wrong.

But if you detect something else in the way they formulate their response, expression, or body language or maybe the fact they never say it that way, you’re not going to just leave it at that. You’re going to interact with the waythey say it, or the context, not the words they say.

If you can hear the downheartedness in the way they say fine, you instantly know that they’re not actually doing fine. And that’s the difference between hearing words and hearing context.

What Context Patterns Can You Pick Up On?

At work, picking up on context can be trickier than talking to someone you know on a personal level. Here, it can be helpful to look for context in patterns over time.

If you’re a manager, you might look for a context pattern in the way in which employees see their work by noticing the way they respond to challenges and requests.

  • Are their replies always about time or deadlines? (I don’t have enough time to do that. I won’t have time. I can get it to you by 4.)
  • Are their responses blame driven? (Well, that wasn’t on my plate beforeYou didn’t tell me that. That’s up to Suzy, not me.)
  • Are they all about safety or cautiousness? (Oh, I don’t know if we should do that because we might not be able to get it to the event by Thursday. I don’t know, we didn’t do it that way last year.)

If you can look at their responses and see if they’re coming from a certain context pattern, then you can ID a bit of how they see the world. These people see it in a context of time, a context of blame, or a context of caution. Once you have that figured out, you can start addressing that context and get them the help or training they need to improve.

Hearing Context Is Key

Being able to tap into the context of what’s being said is a heightened form of awareness that can help you be a better communicator and leader.

Interested in learning more on this topic? Check out this training session snippet with Arden Coaching’s CEO Maren Perry as she reviews what it means to hear context

Do We Hear Context? Can You Hear The Meaning Behind The Words?